How Biofeedback Can Help Anger
Anger is a naturally occurring emotion. However, often people do not express anger in a healthy, appropriate way. They allow frustrations to build up, then reach a point where they erupt.
Over time, pent-up anger and resentment causes tiny problems to become big ones. Anger can become displaced or is expressed in a way that becomes problematic. Many people feel more upset when they realize that they overreact or explode with anger, especially if it causes hurt for themselves or someone else. Thus, it creates the terrible cycle of struggling with anger.
But there is help for anger that doesn’t require you to dig up your past, explore your thoughts, or send letters to a dead loved one. It’s called biofeedback, and it offers individuals readily-learned techniques that are safe and effective (based upon decades’ worth of research).
Unhealthy, inappropriate anger looks like this: You get home from a bad day at work, where everything seems to be going wrong. The house is a mess, and the kids are running around screaming. Your spouse is yelling to you from the kitchen to help.
You explode with a nasty remark about how you were busy working all day, and you do not have time to help. You say something hurtful in regard to your spouse not being a good parent. The kids hear you yell, and your spouse yells back or begins to cry. You then kick one of the toys on the floor and leave the house to go to a bar for a drink to unwind, leaving your family in disarray.
On the other hand, people also can internalize anger and it will manifest in different ways. Internalized anger can cause migraines, stomach problems, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and so on. The body expresses anger in maladaptive ways when people do not express it constructively.
Biofeedback and neurofeedback techniques offer individuals skills in how to effectively manage anger.
People can monitor their physiological responses and thus learn how to gain control over them. Neurofeedback also helps create a stronger connection between the emotional and executive areas of the brain, allowing people to gain a proper “checking” system. Anger is then expressed in a rational, appropriate, and conducive manner. Communication becomes clearer, and others are more likely to respond to your needs.
Children also can internalize anger and carry it with them, or express it with aggressive and problematic behaviors. Biofeedback, with the use of a video game program, helps build a stronger connection between the midbrain (emotional center) and forebrain (executive control center).
Here’s how it works. The child has sensors placed on certain areas of the head to read brain waves such as delta, beta, and hibeta waves. The video game will not advance if he or she is not keeping active and focused (increasing beta waves). If he or she becomes anxious or distracted (hibeta waves), or begins to feel tired or daydream (delta waves), the game will stop.
The child then learns to find the medium where he or she feels a calm focus and is in control of his or her brain functioning. A study conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital showed that the children who received biofeedback therapy had better control over their reactions to daily frustrations than they had prior to receiving the treatment.
“The connections between the brain’s executive control centers and emotional centers are weak in people with severe anger problems,” explains Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, chief of psychopharmacology at Boston Children’s and senior investigator of a recent biofeedback study conducted there.
Building a strong connection and balance between the midbrain and forebrain allows a child or adult to gain better control over their emotional responses and behaviors. Aggression and anger are then diffused in a healthy and appropriate manner.
Biofeedback also teaches breathing correctly as a relaxation technique. Breathing deeply through the diaphragm and focusing on each inhale and exhale will clear the mind and allow the frontal brain to keep the midbrain and emotional centers in check. It gives the mind a chance to step back from the situation and view it objectively instead of impulsively reacting off of intense emotions.
Biofeedback is a time- and research-tested technique to help people learn to better control responses that many believe are automatic or uncontrollable. If you or someone you love is having trouble with anger, consider biofeedback as one potential treatment to help with this concern.
Boston Children’s Hospital. (2012, October 24). Video game with biofeedback teaches children to curb their anger. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024164731.htm
DeName, K. (2013). How Biofeedback Can Help Anger. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 2, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/04/22/how-biofeedback-can-help-anger/